Growing & Learning (a lot)

I started graduate school at the University of Colorado Denver (UCD) about 6 months ago. It is just the beginning of what will be a long (but significant) journey; my schooling (inclusive of practicum and internship) will last over three years, then, for two years I will work under supervision before I can become officially licensed as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

I joined UCD’s Counseling Program specifically because of the program’s multicultural focus, fusing psychological approaches with specific cultural contexts for people of all backgrounds.

Originally, a few years ago, I had thought I had wanted to be a social worker.

Post-Peace Corps, I applied to the University of Denver, got in (twice) and subsequently decided that I didn’t want to fork over that much money simply to be qualified to help people.

There was more too – I realized that while social work is an incredible profession – creating ways for individuals to access important resources – I wanted to help individuals, groups, and communities in a more relationally focused way. I started researching and exploring and found that counseling was a great fit for my interests and skillsets.

Social workers work within systems, usually matching services for the needs of a client.

Counseling, however, provides treatment (often in the realm of mental health) for clients in a setting that prioritizes a professional relationship so that a person can slowly heal, grow, and become fully empowered in their life. I like to think of this more positively; instead of focusing on a person’s shortfalls, a lot of constructive change can occur when a person knows (and uses) the assets and strengths they hold. Leveraging these, I’m learning, is a powerful way to pursue health and wellness.

Upon starting my program, I was ready to learn about the ins and outs of counseling, therapy modalities, and techniques to use when working in therapeutic settings. I had a vision for the kind of therapist/counselor I wanted to be – one that worked with individuals from different trauma backgrounds (like refugees), cultures, and age groups.

As with any formidable learning opportunity, already a lot has changed.

My coursework has challenged me; I have had to confront my own bias’s, beliefs, opinions, assumptions, and understandings about people. In just a handful classes, I have also re-explored some of my own past to understand better why I do what I do. In doing so, I can see where some of my perspectives have come from, and while I can hold onto these, I must also see where my blind-spots exist, too.

You see, what I forgot to consider in starting my path as a counselor-trainee was that I would need to continue to do “work” with myself. After all, without self-awareness and knowledge of self, how can I possibly begin to help the clients I work with in the future? As a result, It feels like the door has opened and that this journey has brought far more emotional healing than I could have otherwise found. That has been a pleasant surprise.

I have also felt overwhelmed at my interest areas, not unlike a child in a store filled with candy:

Do I want to focus on trauma? How can I use narrative therapy? What if I want to work with older adults? Can I specialize in working with LGBTQ+ populations? Do I want to work in an agency or focus on private practice?

 The questions have felt endless, but I do believe this is ultimately a really necessary step within a much larger process. I am beginning to filter through where and how I will work. I mean – how cool is that?

In the meantime, I am learning to be kinder to myself, to let myself dream, to imagine what my profession will be like as I learn, and to enter it all with fearlessness, grace, and patience. It isn’t easy – but it is necessary.

Here’s to growing, learning, and doing it all with some humor, sass, and fun.

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The Next Big Thing

I knew at a young age that my bones, brain, and heart had been crafted in such a way that I was meant to help people. When my grandmother cooked chili and grilled cheese for dinner, I wanted to set the table. When my teacher had a stack of papers to grade, I wanted to make sure she had a full set of pens. When my teammate was hurt, I was first to make sure she had the proper medical equipment or medicines. More than just action, I knew and believed in the power of asking questions and helping people through conversation and dialogue.

It was here where I felt most energized.

This deeply earnest part of me was like a seed that grew (and grew) as I got older. Helping in many ways, became a way that I felt most apt in communicating love.

And yet, growing up becomes more complicated. As I ventured into my teens, and young adulthood, I had to learn the necessary (but at times painful) process of also accepting, receiving, and engaging with help. I had to learn to ask for it, and I had to learn that it was healthy to acquiesce to it. Being helpful certainly doesn’t make you invincible. When I was stranded, someone always showed up. When I needed extra money, a check always came my way. When I was sick, someone always filled in as my caretaker. When I was heartbroken, someone was there to rub my back.

At 29, I recognize fully that there is no way anyone can do this – life – alone.

We need each other.

By knowing the power of relying on one another, I have been able to find a great deal of healing from pain in my past. Healing, I know now, requires us often to go back to places of suffering. Instead of pushing against my own feelings, reflections, or experiences, I have chosen them. I have acknowledged them. I have reconciled with them.

This has been grueling, and it has not come quick or fast. Yet, through this process, I know that I can now fully, authentically, genuinely help others. This realization has been life-changing for me – now, I know that I’m ready to take the next step in my professional life because of the work I have done in my personal life.

Often, the notion of my career has included education and advocacy for people who need it the most. Now, knowing what I know, and believing what I do, I am pursuing to be a Licensed Professional Counselor through the School of Education & Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver. Because I do love helping, and because I love people, I would like to apply my life experiences into a professional path that creates access to healing for anyone – and everyone. For the next 3 years, I will be training with other Counseling candidates to become certified and work on behalf of those needing mental health services.

The University of Colorado Denver is unique in how they structure the Counseling program; with multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion at its core, all of the methodologies, theories, and therapies that I will be learning will hold tightly to these values. I will learn how to be not only a counselor, but a counselor that has to consider privilege, difference, and oppression as we work for social justice. Our world needs this.

I want to be a counselor because I want to help people understand their lives better, to know themselves, and most importantly, to know they matter and that healing is possible. I want to be a counselor because I believe that this service is too often inaccessible for many people in our society. I want to equip individuals with the mental help and wellness they may need. Whether it’s refugees, the elderly, or LGBTQ+ people, I want to be a part of a movement that brings mental health services to ALL.

I want to create a safe space – even if it is the smallest of spaces.

Becoming a counselor has been a dream of mine for many years. And yet, it has never been the right time. Other things were in the way, I had too much to work through, or I was abroad. They say timing is everything – and they’re right. Now, it is the right time, and I am beginning a path that will not only fulfill a professional desire, but a personal one, too.

I will help people, and in turn, I recognize they will help me too.

Here’s to the next big thing, with lots of dreams, love, work, hope, and papers. Always papers. This new journey begins on January 17th, and likely will take 3 – 3 ½ years to complete.

I’m in it for the long haul and truly, I can’t wait to get started.

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